Has Berlin Lost Its Awards Season Mojo?

Courtesy of TIFF
'Fire at Sea' is the only Oscar nominee from last year's Berlinale titles.

With its emphasis on auteurs and docs, insiders say the Berlinale has ceded ground to a resurgent Venice, which launched two best-picture Oscar winners in as many years, and possibly a third with 'La La Land.'

Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi’s poignant refugee documentary that took home Berlin’s Golden Bear in 2016, is quite rightly among the nominees at this year's Academy Awards. And for the filmmaker’s speech alone, many will be hoping he wins.

But it’s the only film from last year’s crop of Berlinale titles to have emerged after 12 months to find itself with a seat at the Oscars on Feb. 26.

Last year, Charlotte Rampling was the sole survivor, following up her Silver Bear for 45 Years with a best actress nomination at the Oscars. And in 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel maintained the momentum from kicking off the Berlinale to earn nine noms and winning four.

It’s increasingly slim Academy pickings from one of the year’s most prestigious and important festivals. With many lining up their hot, Oscar-tipped titles for the “awards corridor” kicking off in November, is Berlin losing its force as an early launch platform?

“It does suffer from its date in February. A studio or distributor doesn’t want a film in a festival and then release it nine months later,” says Zygi Kamasa, head of Lionsgate U.K. “You want to release three, four months later at most. A premiere in February will be a movie you want to release before the summer.”

Berlin’s Oscar slowdown comes at the same time as a rejuvenated Venice Film Festival, which in Spotlight and Birdman has given world premieres to best-picture winners in the past two years, and will — according to most pundits — add another one with La La Land.

“Obviously nothing succeeds like success,” says Liz Miller, Premier PR’s awards-campaign veteran. “I think many said they were going to give [Venice] a miss because it was expensive and inconvenient, and why not just go to Toronto? And I think Venice has blown a big raspberry back at everyone.”

In La La Land, Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge, Venice boasts three of 2017’s best picture Oscar nominees, more than any other festival. But while Berlin may not be able to boast about major glamorous spoils, Miller says it’s still a force on the documentary and foreign-language front, adding to the essential “festival blabbermouthing” that sparks early buzz. “You could argue that Mia Hansen-Love’s Things to Come was maybe unfairly overlooked this time, but certainly its profile was raised in awards conversations and in critics groups' conversations by Berlin.”

Indeed, the film's lead, Isabelle Huppert, has already scooped a sizeable haul of best actress wins this awards season (and, of course, she does have a Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for her other major title this year, Elle).

And while it may not be the premiere launch pad, with Berlin taking place just before final Academy voting closes, it has remained a place to give an already nominated film a last-gasp push. Says Miller: “It [is] another shot at the title.”

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